BILL BROWN MBE
THE INTRODUCTION TO THE DDS&NA [Department of District Services and Native Affairs] Circular Instruction No 147 of 3 April 1952 said it all: “The policy of the Government is that all Restricted Areas in the Territory are to be brought under complete control by 31st May, 1955.”
Within a month of returning from my first leave, I was heading south from Kainantu to the Lamari and Aziana river valleys.
I had never been in a Restricted Area, but I was lucky; that 14-page circular was in the large foolscap format, and it was full of sound advice.
Cadet Patrol Officer Frank Harris accompanied the patrol for 11 days and at Suwaira and Obura, the first of the Lamari villages, we went through the motions of a census and compiling Village Registers.
Harris returned to Kainantu when we moved into uncontrolled territory, as I reckoned that one inexperienced person on the patrol, myself, was enough of a worry.
Gordon Linsley’s patrol in December 1951 may have been the first to visit the Lamari and Aziana. If it was, mine was the second (and I was to make another four).
Linsley and I both visited Barua, the Kukukuku villages on the left bank of the Aziana headwaters, which Jim Sinclair had visited from Mumeng in September 1951. Ten years later, in June 1960, Gus Bottrill and Otto Alder would establish a patrol post at nearby Wonenara.
We had two incidents on that 1953 patrol.
The night guards had not stopped an intruder from entering the camp, but the shot from Pida’s rifle, a Lee Enfield .303, fired next to my tent had me awake and quickly outside. I had slept fully dressed except for my boots.
We stayed awake for the rest of the night, and by dawn, Good Friday, “about 80 armed natives had surrounded the camp... Women carrying reserve supplies of arrows formed a circle about ten yards behind their men folk.”
Ten days later in the Aziana at Oribinati, “just after we made camp they surrounded us and fired several arrows.”
District Commissioner Ian Downs read my report, decided I would run into more trouble and I was appointed as a Coroner.
Meanwhile to the west, just over the Goroka Sub-district boundary, John McArthur, also in his second term, was also patrolling to the south from Kumiava Patrol Post.
District Commissioner Downs decided to close the post at Kumiava and relocate McArthur to a new post in the more densely populated Fore area of the Kainantu Sub-district.
I was sitting alongside Harry West in the radio room at Kainantu when Downs came on air to discuss the move.
He announced that the new post would be at a village called Okapa. He liked the name of that village - it sounded like Okapi, a small African mammal.
West did not agree; he wanted to locate the new post at Moke in the centre of the population, but one did not argue with Downs, especially over the airwaves. West seemingly capitulated and named the new post Okapa but located it at Moke.
CPO Paul Healy joined McArthur to assist with the construction of the new post and a new section of road. Things were about to move, but Downs decreed that the upcoming Lamari patrol, my second, was to be delayed until after he had made an aerial survey of the area and had driven to Okapa.
The two wives were the only other passengers; Judy Downs, a vivacious and attractive 35-year-old, and Joan Harris, about to turn 31, even more glamorous.
The next morning, a Saturday, we took off in the Dragon to reconnoitre the Lamari; Harris in the pilot’s seat in the nose of the aircraft and, further back Downs and West on the bench seats on the side of the aircraft.
The next morning, Downs was at the wheel of the station’s short wheel-based Landrover with the two wives alongside him as we set out for Okapa. Ray Harris, Harry West and I bounced around in the back - the picnic luncheon at our feet.
Five kilometres from our destination, the road nose-dived into a gully. Or was it a gorge? Downs inched the Landrover forward, and it started to slide. It was out of control and so was Downs’s notorious temper.
McArthur and Healy had disappeared, perhaps to avoid the wrath. With lengths of kanda (lawyer cane) attached to the rear of the vehicle, the locals lowered it down the slope.
Up the other side of the gully was Okapa, not yet a patrol post, not even a base camp, but there was a brand new house.
It was built on the ground for warmth and spotless newly plaited bamboo matting covered the earth floor. Inside it was clean and airy, almost a picnic atmosphere.
After lunch, the ladies ventured outside, eventually reappearing, grinning to themselves. I soon discovered why.
The toilet behind the house, a pit latrine, was a squatter with only a long narrow slip opening in the flitch of timber set in the earth floor. It was an impossible target – more a splashboard.
Downs and his party returned to Goroka, McArthur and Healy returned to Kumiava, and 10 days later we set out for the lower Lamari: eight police, one medical orderly, 45 carriers and didiman Don Shepherd to keep me company.
Our task was to explore the right bank of the Lamari River below the Aziana junction, and to investigate the reported murders of two natives from Ilessa village by their Obutasa neighbours.
It took 10 days, to reach a group of previously unvisited Fore villages in the Kasane valley on the lower Lamari fall, and another four days, on compass, to reach Soi-inantu.
It was downhill – our thoughts were on fish and perhaps oysters and prawns as we trudged through the uninhabited luxuriant forest. The reality was hundreds of voracious leeches, stinging nettles, pigeons and vulturine parrots.
We had descended 1,350 metres but there were no fish, prawns, canoes or coconuts at Soi-inantu. The men spoke Police Motu, most of them had worked for the Australasian Petroleum Company and they had been visited by one patrol from the Gulf.
My Highlands team members were short of food, but they did not like sago.
Back to Ilessa and the inquiry into the two murders. The Ilessas had only recently accepted the Administration but were still wary, and wanted protection.
We were delayed a day by the flooded Lamari River and then struggled up the 580 metre escarpment to Obutasa.
The description of the events that followed is drawn from two statements made by police:
Last December  … I heard that two Ilessa natives had been killed by natives of Obutasa village. I reported this … the ADO told me that a patrol would make an investigation as soon as possible. … I left Kainantu with Mr Brown on a patrol. …
The Luluai of Ilessa … told us that the Obutasa natives had that day killed another Ilessa man. … we went to Obutasa. About seventy people surrounded the patrol There were plenty of natives around the hills at distances of fifty yards and more armed with bows, arrows and shields decorated with cassowary feathers.
On Saturday the 13th February 1954 we descended to the Lamari River. ….and … slept on the bank. We went to Obutasa village on Sunday. … On Wednesday some men from Obutasa village came to the camp. Natives armed with bows and arrows and carrying shields watched the camp from the nearby ridges. I think these were natives of the next two villages who had come to assist the Obutasa. We were instructed to arrest some men indicated to us …
As soon as we arrested the men spears began to fall around and in the camp. These spears (arrows) were for fired from a short distance about forty yards away and hit hard. Mr. Brown fired a warning shot but the arrows continued to fall in the camp. I saw Mr Brown and Constable … move forward. If Mr. Brown had not move quickly he would have been hit by the arrows.
There were three men beneath the camp as well as a large group above the camp. They were coming around to attack us from the rear firing arrows as they went. They were just below the camp and the arrows they were firing were dangerous. They took no notice of the warning shots so I fired at one of tem. He fell down and the other two men ran away. … He was dead.
The investigation was completed and I explained to the men in custody what was going to happen to them. Six were to be released and could return to the village, and eight were going to Kainantu to face the court.
It took a full day to return to return to the empty house at Okapa. Then there was the longer walk, along the jeep track, to Kainantu: to the paper war, to a coronial, to court proceedings, and to reports.
A mild admonition emanating from Headquarters: “Only six native policeman were with the patrol leader, two others being sick and … left at Iakea”.
It was reinforced by the District Commissioner: “It had escaped my notice that, at the time of the attack on the patrol, Mr Brown had with him only six native policeman … future patrols to the South Lamari area will include a minimum of twelve native police.”
In the patrol report, I recorded a story about the Fore sorcery called Keru [sic], and described the victim’s symptoms:
“The first sign of impending death is a general debility which is followed by a general weakness and inability to stand.
"The victim retires to her house. She is able to take a little nourishment but suffers from violent shivering. The next stage is that the victim lies down … cannot take nourishment and death eventually ensues.”
I also described the cannibalism practised by the Fore people:
“Enemies are never eaten, only friends and relatives … a body may be eaten soon after death or some months after. If it is not eaten soon after it is buried and disinterred after approximately one month.
"Care is taken when the body is interred and when it is disinterred it is shovelled with great care onto pandanus mats. … The maggots … are regarded as an integral part of the body...
"All parts of the body are consumed, the flesh being mixed with green leaf vegetables and roasted in bamboos.”
I was not to know that brighter people than me would identify Keru, or Kuru as it was to later be known, as a medical problem and identify its cause as Fore cannibalism.
Dr Vin Zigas became involved about August 1955, and by March 1957 had brought in Dr Daniel Carleton Gajdusek.
In 1976, Gajdusek along with Baruch S Blumberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for showing that Kuru was transmissible to chimpanzees. Okapa was on the international scene, probably forever.
And in 2009, a misguided academic wrote that “the term ‘kuru’ derives from the Fore word ‘kuria/guria’ (‘to shake’) a reference to the body tremors that are a classic symptom of the disease.”
He did not appear to have known of “keru”, nor that his “kuria/guria” is Pidgin, a language not spoken by the Fore in 1954.
He might well have said, with equal inaccuracy, that the term comes from Motu word “keru” meaning “cold; fever and ague”.